Is Lobbying a Family Business in Congress?

When the Jack Abramoff scandal unfolded in 2005-2006, lobbyists’ previously unknown ties within Congress became one of the hottest topics in the media and as Congress considered its historic overhaul of lobbying regulations, this issue was at the forefront.

At that time, investigations by various media outlets reported dozens of lobbyists with relatives serving in Congress, some directly lobbying committees that their relatives sat on. So it was no surprise when HLOGA didn’t mince words in laying down the law regarding family connections between lobbyists & Congress.

HLOGA prohibits spouses of Senators from lobbying any Senate office. However, spouses who were serving as registered lobbyists at least one year before their marriage to an elected spouse, or before their spouse’s most recent election, are exempt. It also places limits on other family connections; Senators’ immediate family members who are registered lobbyists are not permitted to lobby that Senate office. The Act is succinct in its requirement that lobbyists refrain from using ‘family relationships to gain special advantages over other lobbyists’ in both houses of Congress.

So while Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)’s wife Lucy Calautti, a senior adviser at Baker & Hostetler,  is registered to lobby for the association America’s Health Insurance Plans, and for Major League  Baseball, she has not and may not lobby her husband’s office, whose committee assignments include agriculture, nutrition, budget, finance, Indian affairs and joint taxation.

The easy bashing that accompanies lobbyist-Member connections is often without solid proof of wrongdoing. Let’s face it: it is unrealistic to expect that Members’ relations will all disappear from the lobbying horizon, especially since it’s not an actual violation of the law. What’s realistic and much more useful is to gain a real understanding of the comprehensive laws for lobbying, and then look at who is following the law, and who is not.

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